You may already know the story behind The Martian, the Oscar-nominated movie starring Matt Damon. But if you’ve only seen the movie, you’re missing the great look into the psyche of the stranded astronaut that is contained in the book. And if you haven’t seen the movie yet, I highly recommend that you read the book first.
I started with the book, written in 2011 by self-proclaimed science nerd Andy Weir. From friends who have seen the movie, I have heard that the stories are very similar. When Mark Watney and his team of astronauts are caught in a terrible sandstorm while exploring Mars, Watney is presumed dead and left behind. Facing a distant, and very slim, chance of rescue with supplies only meant to last a short time, Watney must invent ways to grow food, expand water and air supplies and restore communications with NASA. Eventually, a rescue plan is put into place, but it requires a dangerous trek across Martian terrain where survival depends on stretching Watney’s equipment, abilities and determination beyond their limits.
The main difference between the movie and the book is that much of the book is told through Watney’s journals. Instead of just watching him devise a system to grow potatoes using his own waste, as you do in the movie, you read what he is thinking (and smelling) as he mixes bags of poo with soil samples from Earth in the hope of growing enough food to survive. In the scene where Watney loses his recently regained ability to talk to NASA, the book reveals his shift from confusion to terror to anger when he realizes it’s a result of his own mistake. These glimpses into his mindset make the reality of his situation — the hopelessness, fear, ingenuity and bravery– all the more pressing. It turns a story of survival into an exploration of the rollercoaster emotions a person experiences when faced with danger.
At times, the scientific explanations in the book went over my head, but that didn’t limit my enjoyment. Even without understanding every detail, I was riveted by Watney’s plight and cheering for a happy ending. The story of survival against all odds — whether it occurs on Mars, the oceans of Earth or in a dysfunctional family — is something most of us can relate to. The Martian was a great read, and now I can’t wait to see the movie.